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Last Updated: Friday, 5 March, 2004, 12:22 GMT
Call-girl obsessed boss is jailed
Peter Lee
Shamed businessman Peter Lee spent thousands on the call-girl
A businessman who stole almost 500,000 from his own firm to lavish gifts on a high-class prostitute has been jailed for three years.

More than 150 people lost their jobs after managing director Peter Lee siphoned cash from his County Durham coach firm to spend on a London call-girl called Tia.

Durham Crown Court was told Lee, 51, bought the London-based woman a BMW.

He was jailed on Friday, after earlier pleading guilty to the theft.

Infatuated Lee, 51, of Priors Terrace, Tynemouth, Tyneside, ruined his bus company Durham Travel Services with the massive theft.

The married father-of-two bought sex at 1,000 a night and gave Tia - real name Antoinette Cato - a BMW convertible, jewellery and a holiday to Bali before his crimes were detected.

I, like others, feel utterly betrayed. Because of this, I lost the business I'd worked hard to build up over the last 14 years
Eric Bowerbank

He had previously pleaded guilty to three counts each of forgery, theft, and false accounting.

Sentencing him, Judge John Walford told Lee: "You have thrown away a lifetime of hard work and you have brought shame not only on yourself but on your family.

"Your reputation is in tatters and your future is obviously a difficult one."

The court was told the former managing director spent 493,000 on Tia, with a further 60,000 going to another woman and 37,000 to a third woman who gave birth to his child.

Neither of the other two women were prostitutes.

The fraud was only discovered when Lee took a holiday and the huge hole in the finances came to light.

Eric Bowerbank, his former business partner of 14 years, called in police and financial experts.

After the hearing Mr Bowerbank said: "This whole thing has dragged on for an age. I just want it to be over."

Call-girl Antoinette Cato - known as Tia
Peter Lee spent thousands on London call-girl Tia

The business ran bus routes in London, contracted work from the operators National Express and ran coaches in the North East and beyond.

The firm won contracts to provide transport for disabled people in Tyne and Wear and also in Yorkshire.

Lee was also invited to advise the Government on transport policy for the disabled.

By 2000, Durham Travel Services was showing a profit of 1m and had a 5m turnover.

When the fraud came to light in August 2002, it was soon apparent the firm was ruined and it was liquidated that year with 170 job losses.

Mr Bowerbank, who now works for another coach firm, said Lee had conned many people and felt he had been betrayed.

He added: "I could not believe that someone in his position, as well as a business partner of 14 years, could jeopardise the future of his employees, business colleagues, associates and family through his own dishonesty, greed and selfishness.

"I, like others, feel utterly betrayed. Because of this, I lost the business I'd worked hard to build up over the last 14 years.

"Like many other people in the company, I lost my livelihood."

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